Chapter 1: Bible, Business, Life
Most books based on biblical themes speak very little about the business world or the marketplace. Likewise, most books written about the modern world’s marketplace speak very little about the Bible. A few business coach types clearly use biblical themes and even cite the Bible once in a while; but for the most part, these two—the Bible and business—are held to be different streams of life, if not simply incompatible.
The problem for me is that these two, the Bible and the marketplace, are my passion. I enjoy both deeply, and together they enrich my life and give it meaning. One without the other would fall flat, for it is in the marketplace where I can best apply biblical principles, and it is in the Bible where I learn how the marketplace actually works.
This book is the result of my getting up every workday and being responsible for employees’ paychecks, vendors’ bills, and customers’ needs for more than a quarter century. In those years I have seen good times and bad, made great decisions and not-so-great decisions. I have had the privilege of teaching adult Bible fellowship classes at my place of worship, in my home, and in other house groups.
Theologically my roots are Anabaptist, Protestant, but my current worldview has been greatly affected by the successful establishment of the modern nation of Israel. The other huge input that has moved my thinking is the literature that has come out of Messianic Judaism and the Hebrew Roots Movement during the last forty years. That said, my desire is to serve all believers with this message.
My hope is to show results that may lead others to modify the way they read the Bible. It is important to emphasize here that while I love to dig for the truth, grace and mercy are always a first consideration. The reason why will become clear as the book develops.
The question I will attempt to answer is, how can the biblical record better inform our actions in the marketplace, and how can we affect the marketplace for justice, mercy, and faith? In other words, Can the marketplace be redeemed from a place of serving Darwinism to a place of loving God and serving our fellow man?
Many believers seem to have no problem with the marketplace being dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. What they see is that competition yields better service, better products, and improved life for the majority. Meanwhile, another group of believers cries out for social justice and howls about the rich abusing the poor.
Those of us from the business community tend to side more with the first group, but we must admit that the social justice Christians have the Old Testament prophets like Amos and Micah on their side. The fact is, they clearly have James, from the New Testament, on their side also.
Does this mean that faith in the marketplace needs to be socialistic, or even communist somehow? I do not think so; but maybe this is why the Bible and business rarely end up in the same dialog. Surely competition is good and inspires better craftsmanship and product, but surely caring for others is also part of our calling as believers.
So how do we walk this fine line? What are the patterns that enable us to create great products that improve mankind’s lot in life without violating the biblical moral code?
We are not the first generation to struggle with keeping a strong middle class. Wealth naturally flows to those who already have it. To counter this natural flow, we in the West have done much to improve the lives of all citizens by using a progressive bracketed income tax system. We have supported public education for all, public highways, antitrust laws, publicly funded old age pensions, health care—and the list goes on. All of these have the purpose of supporting the middle class against poverty and oppression.
Depending on who you talk to, these initiatives have enjoyed varying degrees of success; yet our world seems to cry out for a better answer. The middle class is increasingly stressed, while again wealth seems to flow to those who already have it. The problem seems to have its roots in the credit market.
Debt is the method by which middle class people buy homes, automobiles, and higher education for their children. When the economy is growing and work is plentiful, wages can pay off these debts and allow recent have-nots to accumulate equity and enter the middle class world. Western governments have also subsidized credit markets in hopes of creating growth in home ownership and education. Transportation is subsidized via public transit in the cities and public highways throughout the countryside. Auto manufacturers themselves often offer low interest rate loans for the purchase of new cars.
For many decades this borrowing to buy as a way of forced saving had a positive effect on the net worth of middle class families. Especially during times of inflation, a family with a low interest rate on their home loan could pay back their lender with dollars of lower value, while their home equity continued to increase. Loans for higher education increased the earning power of the individual, allowing those loans to be paid off easily. And since transportation was key to this earning power, most new college graduates bought cars shortly after graduating, if not before.
Because these things worked so well, home loans grew to thirty-year maturities, with some lenders loaning as much as 125 percent of value against homes, believing that homes always increase in value. Auto loans grew in maturities also, some reaching seven years, and loans for higher education grew seemingly without limit in an almost religious belief that education improved earning power.
Then, as if we were playing musical chairs, the music stopped.
Overnight, credit froze. No one could borrow, as the lenders themselves had been found to be insolvent. Governments scrambled to save the financial system. Plenty has been written about the economy since the fall of 2008, and much of it mirrors what was written about previous marketplace disruptions of decades and centuries long past and conveniently forgotten.
But of all the pundits who spilled myriads of pixels on the Internet and other mediums on the subject of the Great Recession, almost no one inquired if we had violated some biblical principle. Even those who did indicate that biblical principles had been violated did so in unhelpful ways, providing lots of judgmental attitude about debt but little guidance for future hope.
Into this world of confusion and sadness, Deuteronomy 15:1–6 speaks:
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
This passage clearly limits debt to seven years—and not just any seven years. By studying Deuteronomy 15:1–6 in conjunction with Deuteronomy 31:10, it becomes clear that the biblical ideal is a complete credit cycle reset on a specific date in the fall of the seventh year:
Then Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths.” —DEUTERONOMY 31:10
The Feast of Booths, or Sukkoth, always falls in our September/October time frame. Imagine a society in which all debt is zeroed out on a specific autumn date every seven years. This is not to be a surprise event, but a designed, planned-for, built-into-the-society event.
Leviticus 25 and other passages also give us considerable information about how ancient Israel was to handle the sabbatical year. Not only were debts to be canceled, but the land was to be left untilled and slaves were to be set free. In the seventh set of seven years, an additional year was added to create a fifty-year Jubilee during which the land was transferred back to the original owners’ families.
Clearly these biblical ideas are not going to be implemented as law in our Western culture anytime soon. Nonetheless, we can look for ways to improve our lives with this information. For these old economic ideas to have value, we will have to dig deep and allow our minds to wander outside modern norms. Here is where pondering the ancient documents has something to offer us.
So in essence this book will mix Bible, Christianity, and Hebraic/Jewish thinking, along with my years as a small businessman and a student of the marketplace. This book’s focus will be on improving lives by adapting biblical principles and concepts to our modern walk of faith.
Along the way I expect I will stumble into a theological quarrel. Some will be tempted to argue with the words they find here; those who do are missing the point. The challenge should be to argue with the results these ideas can bring about in normal people’s lives.